Monday, December 07, 2009

Historic Events

Today, of course, is the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which event ushered the U.S. into World War II. And while that does tempt me to discuss America's current military incursion in Asia, I'm actually thinking more about a big round anniversary that happened yesterday, but didn't get a lot of attention. That would be the 40th anniversary of the concert at Altamont. You know, the big Peace and Love Fest that Wasn't, where the Stones headlined.

It's often painted as the Anti-Woodstock, for its aggressive nature and tone, and, oh yeah, the deaths. (4 people died, one stabbed, by a Hell's Angels security guard.) Rob Kirkpatrick gave the anniversary some column inches, but on the whole it's been ignored, much more so than the Woodstock anniversary a few months ago, with the reunion concerts and the special edition DVDs and the new movie about the event and such. This makes a certain amount of sense, as, unlike Woodstock, it's not something people want to celebrate. But it is historically significant; some people think of it as the moment when the '60s ended, in spirit if not in chronology. I might pick another event that resulted in 4 fatalities a few months later on a college campus in the heartland, but Altamont was an important indicator of the shift. Again, a celebration of Flower Power it was not: that Hell's Angel was acquitted, as the court determined that the woman he stabbed was waving a loaded gun toward the stage.

I think of it also because, though a sense of Utopian possibility may have been slipping away, there was still a lot of activism going on that was, well, pretty active. Cory and I were talking about some of the things going on and wondering where the creative, energetic, risk-taking, influential activist groups are. Where is today's SNCC? Does the SDS have any momentum? Is Act Up still out there acting with the kind of force it used to? Is the ACLU still successful at getting Congresspeople's attention?

This is not some kind of appeal for the good old bad old days (and actually, I think the ACLU does still have some sway), but it is an appeal for the kind of juicy, vital, fingers-on-the-pulse-rather-than-on-the-keyboard kinds of social movements that actually move things. And yes, I admit that I don't lie down in front of tanks much myself. But people might lie down in front of the entrance to City Hall (or the Lincoln Tunnel) if there were a well-organized group ready to jump in there.

Of course, I could be wrong.

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